A cautionary word or two concerning these essays. For didactic reasons and in the interest of time, I took certain liberties with respect to presenting the subject matter and constructing a counterargument. For instance, I thought it would be more illuminating to focus on a number of key concepts which lie at the heart of the liberal-democratic theory, more illuminating than any systematic exposition of the theory itself. The notion of “possessive individualism” is one such concept, and I believe it goes a long way to elucidate the gist of the liberal-democratic thought; the notion of empathy, springing as it were from what I termed “moral impulse,” is another. Naturally, the exposition itself had suffered from having taken a back seat. It’s the express purpose of this postscript to rectify this seeming defect while reassuring the reader that not much has been lost; that inattention to the systematic exposition of the theory, or its derivation from the ground up, is not as grave as it might appear.
Let me illustrate. In the concluding part of the series, I spoke, for instance, of John Stuart Mill, the presumptive father of modern-day liberal thought, while apparently discounting his so-called “utilitarian streak,” my term. By encouraging the reader to look instead to Mill’s polemical writings concerning the many injustices prevalent in the early days of the industrial England, I may have created the impression that Mill’s liberal/libertarian bent was mostly, if not solely, a by-product of his moral impulse, that his “utilitarian streak” was more or less coincidental or beside the point.
Well, one just can’t do that. Mill was first and foremost a philosopher, not an ordinary mortal. It stands to reason that his political philosophy would be a direct offshoot of a coherent thought-system, including his picture of Everyman, rather than a mere consequence of being “touchy-feely” or however acute his personal sense of empathy. Which isn't to say that empathy cannot play a part or serve as a legitimate basis for political philosophy – say, a philosophy of love, as evidenced, for instance, by First Corinthians 13, the writings of bell hooks, or the life and acts of Jesus Christ – only that this wasn't so in Mill’s case. Consequently, we can’t divorce Mill’s political thought and his liberalism from their utilitarian underpinnings: they’re inextricable.
It’s also of no account that utilitarianism, the thought-system which gave rise to and ultimately shaped Mill’s political philosophy, happened to be a system of ethics then in vogue. Every political philosophy must, in one way or another, derive from some conception of what it means to be a human, a moral agent, more succinctly, no matter how obscure the connection with the ethical system which underlies it or whether the terms of that system are well- or ill-defined. What does matter, however, and it’s the only thing that matters, is that the underlying account of our moral comings and goings and our specifically moral type of motivation be a sound one, which is to say believable. This certainly isn't the case with the utilitarian version of ethics, whether Bentham’s or Mill’s. In any event, empathy wasn't an integral part of their political or moral theory even though, for argument’s sake, they may have been the most empathetic persons to have ever walked the face of the Earth.